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The crowning of King Charles: a new start for the British monarchy?

The crowning of Charles III will be as close as the new King comes to receiving public acclamation in the absence of a ballot.

Saturday’s coronation, and the scale of public participation outside Westminster Abbey, will be the first popular marker of King Charles’s reign. With people camping out days ahead to secure positions where the parades will pass and 65,000 events planned across the UK on Sunday, the weekend’s celebrations look set to deliver a requisite show of support.

“If you stage a coronation and nobody comes out to cheer, that’s like a defeat . . . If the streets are overflowing and people watch it, that’s the crucial popular endorsement,” said Robert Lacey, royal biographer and consultant historian for the Netflix series The Crown.

At first glance, the monarchy in the transition from Queen Elizabeth II to her son is delivering the stability and continuity it is designed to represent.

“I think it has gone much better than expected. People are much fonder of King Charles III than they were of Prince Charles . . . People have been happy to yield and pass on to him the gravitas that went with his mother,” said Lacey.

Yet, in the seven months since Charles acceded to the throne, there has been a shift in both the way the new King conducts himself and in his relationship with the public.

“I feel the real difference is that Charles is going to be held to account in a way the Queen never was,” said a former employee of the royal household who asked not to be named. “She was untouchable. She was deified almost. That’s gone.”

Opinion polls carried out in the run-up to the coronation reveal a mixed picture. Charles’s own approval ratings have bounced to 55 per cent, still much lower than Queen Elizabeth’s a year ago at 75 per cent, but a five percentage point improvement on when he was a prince.

However, this coincides with a dip in overall support for the monarchy. In every year the National Centre for Social Research has collected data on British Social Attitudes, a majority of the public have supported the institution. But those who deem it “very important” has dropped this year to its lowest point at 29 per cent. One in four Britons identify as republican.

That data has also been reflected in a shift in people’s willingness to speak out on the need for change since the Queen died. Republicans, bearing the slogan “Not My King”, have popped up regularly when King Charles has been out in public. Among 73 per cent of people surveyed for a poll in the royalist Daily Mail newspaper this week, there was the expectation that Charles must modernise the monarchy if it is to survive.

Royal watchers say Charles has navigated pitfalls relatively smoothly in his first months as King. He has proved a “healing force” in relations with Europe, said Lacey, pulling off a successful trip to Germany. He has been more guarded about voicing his personal opinions than he was as prince, adopting a more regal persona, but still touches on subjects he cares about, such as the environment.

In one of his first moves, Charles asked that profits from wind farm deals, which would have generated a multimillion pound surge in royal revenues in coming years, be redirected to the “wider public good”.

“He has showed a national figurehead can be forceful and make strong valid points without stepping outside the boundaries of impartiality,” said Lacey.

But set against this have been running sores in his family. “You still have the simmering scandals — Prince Andrew, Harry and Meghan. A lot of that is potentially quite damaging to him in a way that the Queen managed to rise above,” said the former employee of the royal household.

There was a faux pas, too, ahead of Saturday’s coronation.

In the past only peers swore allegiance to the monarch. This time members of the public have been invited to shout theirs out too. While supporters think this was meant as an inclusive gesture, it was also seen as tone deaf.

“Whether monarchist, republican or don’t give a damn, you recognise the coronation as a national cultural moment,” said Richard Huntington, chief strategy officer at the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, fresh from interrogating the state of the nation after an exhaustive tour of the UK. “But we want the monarchy to swear allegiance to us — not the other way round,” he said.

This speaks to the change that Charles is expected to bring to the institution, and to the clear public demand for more transparency, fewer tax and other exemptions and lower running costs for the royal family.

“There are people who still see the monarchy as untouchable. But far more people understand that it is part and parcel of what needs to change,” said Labour MP Clive Lewis.

“What the head of state is and isn’t allowed to do and the people around them is instrumental in what we as a society think is acceptable and what isn’t,” he said.

While Charles has promised to slim down and modernise the monarchy, that work has barely begun.

“The main change in the monarchy is it is no longer a mystical, magical institution,” said Sir Vernon Bogdanor, professor of history at King’s College London. “It’s a public service institution. It will be evaluated now in public service terms.”

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